Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Slowing down in Irondequoit

Gene Michael has just put up a post on last night's decision by the St. Thomas the Apostle parish council not to go along with the Irondequoit Pastoral Planning Group's decision to recommend closing the parish.

Having served 7 years as chair of the Eastern Greece/Charlotte Planning Group I must note that the goings on in Irondequoit leave much to be desired.

First and foremost is the secrecy. I can imagine no reason why the IPPG would need to consider its minutes privileged information, not to be shared with anyone in the 5 parishes who asks. These planning group people represent the parishioners of the 5 parishes and those parishioners have a right to know what their representatives are saying and doing on their behalf. 

If things have been going on behind closed doors that one or more IPPG representative would be embarrassed to see made public, then those people need to step aside. Now.

There is simply too much at stake here for the IPPG to continue to keep its veil of secrecy in place any longer.

Gene's post follows in its entirety ...


Parish Council Puts on the Brakes

Last night, the St. Thomas parish council stood its ground and put the brakes on the the runaway freight train known as the IPPG. Here are some of the key events that took place during the 2 hour meeting:

  • The Diocese of Rochester is afflicted with a deep malaise that is manifested by its lack of passion for evangelization. The entire emphasis by the IPPG and diocesan planning liaison, Deb Housel, is on the closing and consolidation of parishes. There is no realistic talk of evangelization or of engaging lapsed Catholics who are no longer attending Mass. The IPPG, like the diocese, has basically surrendered without a fight. In a manner of speaking, they don’t seem to believe in their product. There is no passion for the saving of souls.
  • By the way, there is an evangelization committee for the 5 Irondequoit parishes in the planning group. One of their problems has been in trying to coordinate their activities with the various pastors in Irondequoit. Because the pastors don’t regularly attend the committee’s meetings, requests for authorization get bogged down. Some initiatives that are rooted in orthodoxy have also been turned down or modified. For example, the group wanted to run a blurb in the bulletins about the Catholics Come Home website. They were turned down. Shortly thereafter, a committee member resigned because of the negative attitudes he had encountered regarding anything from EWTN, Catholic Answers, etc.
  • It was revealed last night that the reason the IPPG is moving so quickly is because IPPG Chairperson, Betsy Stehler, is setting the deadlines for decision making. She wants the proposal to the bishop right away because of the financial situation of the Irondequoit parishes. Some committee members had expressed concern about the rapid pace of the proposal, but she overrode those concerns. One has to wonder how it is that a layperson, with no pastoral experience, somehow has the authority to put into motion such a devastating proposal. After all, there are several priests on the IPPG.
  • There was a noticeable irritation on the part of IPPG members at the questioning attitude of the parish council. This irritation was also evident on the part of some of the St. Thomas parishioners who had worked with the IPPG on subsidiary committees. One member even had the temerity to say, “I’m shocked by your attitude, you’re all supposed to be Christians”. Now this meeting was by no means disrespectful or unruly. The people on the parish council have been kept woefully uninformed about the activities of the IPPG. Not even a month ago, they had a bomb dropped on them by the IPPG. Very little background information was given to the parish council before last night’s meeting. Five members of parish council just began their terms of office several weeks ago. The council has apparently been so neglected that they do not even have a chairperson or a secretary. They have a right to ask questions about why the IPPG wants to close their parish. They would be negligent if they didn’t.
  • Diocesan planning group liaison, Deb Housel, kept cautioning members to respect and honor the work of the IPPG. That’s a nice sentiment, but the fact is the IPPG wants to close St. Thomas. Not many council members seem to consider that to be very honorable. The insensitivity of the IPPG is rather astounding. Witnessing the IPPG’s clumsiness in advancing this proposal is like watching someone perform brain surgery with a chainsaw.
  • Finances were a big part of the discussion last night. The council members finally received a detailed copy of the facilities report that the IPPG has been utilizing in its decision making. The committee now claims that St. Thomas needs about $975,000 in maintenance and repair. The committee states that the aggregate total for the other 4 parishes in the group is a little over $600,000. When the council pressed for more background, it was revealed that those numbers reflect a 10 year plan for facilities maintenance and improvements. It was also revealed that each parish designated its own facilities expert to come with up a summary of repairs and cost estimates for the IPPG. The St. Thomas facilities report expert stated that he was concerned over a possible lack of uniformity in the assessment process. It would seem that this process is very susceptible to abuse. After all, if the future of your parish hangs in the balance, wouldn’t some people be tempted to be conservative in their cost projections? I’m not saying this happened, but it remains a possibility.
  • There are still some big questions remaining about the facilities report for St, Thomas. For example, the former school building has an aggregate total of $453,500 in maintenance and repair items. One of these items is for $120,000 for new energy efficient windows. Another is $70,000 for new energy efficient lighting. A third item is $100,000 to remove and replace asbestos floor tile. The biggest component, by far, of that flooring figure is for asbestos abatement during the removal process. However, more than one parishioner has stated that it is permitted to cover over that flooring with new flooring. Also, there is nothing in the report that indicates that this is an imminent hazard. Removing these three items alone from the facilities report would reduce the aggregate amount for St. Thomas by almost $300,000. Perhaps St. Thomas’ facility has been overly scrutinized in an effort to bring the buildings completely up to date. Many of us would like to have brand new energy efficient windows and lighting. Most of us would be willing to defer those projects in order to remain financially viable.

When time allows, I will be writing a subsequent piece about last night’s meeting. The parish council did an admirable job last night of scrutinizing the proposal. They also were able to get the IPPG to slow down in order to let everyone catch their breath.

St. Thomas has been incorporated as a parish since 1922. There is no need to pronounce it DOA just to satisfy an artificially contrived timetable. The IPPG can wait. St. Thomas is too important.


Nerina said...

Good for the PPC at St. Thomas. I'm impressed they were able to come together as a group and stand firm. Not all PPCs would have the courage or conviction to defend their churches.

In the choir loft said...

How does the parish determine who gets on these committees?

Mike said...


If we're talking about parish council, I've seen it done a number of ways ranging from being tapped on the shoulder by the pastor to drawing names out of a hat.

For PPNM each parish is generally represented by 4 people. The first is the pastor and the second is another staff member. Most parish councils will select one of their own to represent the council and, finally, most pastors will designate a parishioner-at-large to fill the fourth slot.

In my experience it was sometimes quite difficult for pastors to find that fourth person and frequently one or more of the reps would have a conflict.

It wasn't uncommon to see parishes represented at meetings with as few as two people.

gretchen said...

"It was revealed last night that the reason the IPPG is moving so quickly is because IPPG Chairperson, Betsy Stehler, is setting the deadlines for decision making."

Looks like Ms. Stehler has taken a page from Obama's play book...

Mike said...


I've been involved with enough projects over the years to know that deadlines are a useful - and sometimes necessary - tool.

They serve to focus attention and resources on the task at hand in a way that little else can.

But they are a tool and, like any tool, can be misused, even abused.

Both Mr. Obama and Ms. Stehler seem to be tool abusers.